Dispute could put lives at risk

A COUNTY gritter driver has warned that lives could be at risk as services are threatened by a dispute over pay and conditions.

The Northumberland County Council worker, who does not wish to be named, says that staff are refusing to sign up for extra gritting duties after the authority cut their pay rates and altered their terms.

“They haven’t got a clue how serious this is affecting the workforce morale, but the majority of drivers are saying no to the extra work,” he said.

“It has never been as bad as this before. How much money are they going to save before it costs somebody his life? If we are not out there gritting and there is an accident it will be terrible.

“We are just trying to get a decent wage.”

The man says a number of changes have been brought in this year, including offering lower pay grades and cutting overtime rates of time-and-a-half between 8pm and 6am.

“Just about everyone’s route goes past 8pm so we wouldn’t be finished until 9 or 9.30pm, and then it will depend how severe the weather is. The rota continues for the early morning shift from 4am so it means that from 4am to 6am you wouldn’t get overtime,” he said.

He added that drivers will be paid from leaving the depot, rather than their homes, work vans that staff used to travel to depots have been withdrawn and there will be pay cuts for second drivers and call-out staff.

Workers would also not be paid during compulsory rest periods.

He said: “If you had done as much gritting as you could and needed a rest period you used to get paid, but now they have said there is no pay for rest periods. It is not our fault we have to rest. We would work as long as we had to as long as we got paid for the hours, but working regulations mean we have to have statutory rest periods.”

The driver said council staff are also concerned about moves to bring in agency drivers for weekend cover.

“They want us to do Monday to Friday and they are going to bring agency workers in for weekends, but we don’t know what experience these drivers have or what qualifications they have got,” he said.

The man said the gritting rota was supposed to start this week and run through to March, but many drivers are refusing to put their names forward.

He said: “Everybody that is on the gritting does a normal day job and then goes on a rota to be on stand-by as and when needed.

“Now they are wanting us to do it for less money. The whole lot of this should be done away with. All they are trying to do is cut our pay. We just believe it is too much, too quickly.

“Some drivers have been doing this for over 20 years and all this has just come in this year.

“We think it is pretty disgusting and there is no incentive for the workforce to keep on doing it. We have to do our normal daily duties, but obviously the main crux for gritting is in the early morning and late evening. That is what we are saying no to.

“This is not a strike, it is a protest. We are still doing our normal daily duties.

“We want to go out and do it. It is just all these cuts and the way we are being treated.”

A county council spokesman said: “In line with all council staff and other councils across the country a Single Status agreement that ensures all staff are paid equally and fairly for the work they do was signed by the council and trades unions.

“This agreement has been implemented for the winter service, resulting in changes in the way staff carry out their role and the payments associated with it. Some changes have been an improvement on previous payment terms and others less so. The overall package is broadly equivalent to that which has been offered in previous years.

“Discussions and explanations of the way the winter service will operate under the new terms are ongoing with staff and trades unions to ensure a full understanding. It is anticipated that these will soon be finalised with arrangements in place to ensure that winter service is covered outside of normal working hours.

“Participation in the out of hours service is currently done on a voluntary basis, making it essential that the workforce is on board.

“Under Single Status drivers will no longer be allowed to take home council vehicles routinely.”